This summer, St. Rocco School third grade teacher Maryann Bennett had the opportunity to spend two weeks in Africa through the Opportunity Education Foundation. She spent her time in Uganda, working in schools teaching English to the students.
During her trip, Bennett was stunned by some of the conditions in the schools in which she worked.
"I spent part of my time in government-run schools. In some classrooms there were 100 kids in a class," she said. "Some schools had a well; the water was dirty, but they had a sink and a well."
Other schools weren't as lucky.
"I spent part of my time at a Muslim school where they didn't even have a well on site," she said. "It's a whole different world there. You're constantly seeing mothers walking with their kids with the big water jugs. Sometimes they walk three hours a day back and forth, just to get water. And the water isn't even clean; it's dirty water."
Bennett said that often times, the children do not even attend school because they are walking the miles back and forth with their mothers to get the water.
"Many children there die before they even turn 5," she said.
When she returned to America, viewed by the African citizens as a place "where everyone is rich," according to Bennett, she felt she needed to do something for the students in the school without a well. She enlisted the help of St. Rocco students to bring clean water to Africa.
"I thought, we can do something about this," she said.
She immediately contacted the priest in Jinja, who was in charge of the Muslim school, and told him that her St. Rocco School community would help them to raise the money for the well.
He was thrilled.
"I thought, 'Everything is cheaper there; how much could a well possibly cost?’" she said.
Bennett spoke with Richard Macksoud, math educator and technology support educator at St. Rocco, and also asked several eighth grade students at the school, Nicole Jourabchi, Brianna McGraw, Christian Paolo, Alexa Rapose, Arianna Conti, Michael Fleming, Carlo Merola and Veronica Siravo, for their help in running a Dress Down Day in support of the Muslim school. Her own third grade students began making posters and signs for the school, announcing the event.
Third grader Sabrina Randall came up with the perfect name, "Waves of Hope."
Not only could they dress down for the day on Jan. 17, but the students were asked to wear the Ugandan flag colors as well: black, yellow and red. The eighth grade students decorated water jugs and placed them in classrooms, collecting spare change to add to the collection through Jan. 25.
The fundraising plans were in full swing when Bennett heard back from the Muslim priest with a ballpark figure for the well: $6,000.
Bennett was shocked.
"I told him then that our dress down day would likely not give them the whole amount needed for the well," she said. "But he said not to worry, that every little bit would help and that he would speak to some people there also, and see if there was anything else that could be done."
In the meantime, the students at St. Rocco came out in their bright Ugandan colors last week, raising $200 from the dress down day, with more spare change rolling in as each day goes by.
Bennett is hopeful that as word of the fundraiser gets out, the local community and businesses may wish to donate or match the funds raised by students, all working together to bring clean water to the African students.
Anyone wishing to participate can contact the school at 944-2993, mail their donation, or drop it by the office at 931 Atwood Avenue.